Front Page Titles (by Subject) 51.: On the Reformation: The Establishment of So-Called Spiritual Freedom - Judgments on History and Historians
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
51.: On the Reformation: The Establishment of So-Called Spiritual Freedom - Jacob Burckhardt, Judgments on History and Historians 
Judgments on History and Historians, ed. Alberto R. Coll (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1999).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The copyright to this edition, in both print and electronic forms, is held by Liberty Fund, Inc.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
On the Reformation: The Establishment of So-Called Spiritual Freedom
Today’s rejoicing that the Reformation established so-called spiritual freedom, to the effect that the reformers were the battering-rams against any authority in favor of any lack of restraint, was actually even then the attitude of many, but to the disgust and lament of the reformers themselves, who regarded their particular dogmatism as the sine qua non for all salvation of the soul.
Subsequently the governments helped them to establish well-defined creeds, but not until after they had made sure of the church property and in order to maintain it. It was the governments, municipal as well as princely, that carried through and maintained the firm creeds, for the reformers by themselves would most certainly have succumbed to their disunity.
The people, however, where they participated, in the beginning greatly enjoyed the general lack of discipline.
Apart from that esteem of the reformers as battering-rams against the greatest and thus, by implication, any authority, few people would want to know of them today. Not even the pious strictly believe in their systems of faith any longer.
What if someone had been able to lift the curtain of the future for the people and show them how a hundred years later they would have to pay again for what had been won so very easily?
Forces like those of the Reformation always delude themselves into thinking, in the exultation of the moment, that they are alone in the world. Afterwards they are surprised and abandon themselves to outbursts of execration when the old elements not only have remained in significant numbers, but have grown to great, new strength, because they derive from the innermost core of mankind.
At one time, however, people did not have the slightest scruples about immediately destroying the old faith through interdiction, persecution, exile, etc., to the extent of each government’s power. This was an abomination; it brought about the despair of millions and could not be justified on any legal grounds. Then, too, the religions occasionally do it differently. The Christendom of the fourth century took a long time before it proceeded to persecute paganism—not until it was completely harmless—because it was acting according to religious impulses. On the other hand, confiscators have to act immediately with cruel exclusiveness. To be sure, the properties and endowments of the pagan temples had been a trifle compared with the loot that the governments of the Reformation had before them. Hence the horrible compulsion to Protestant sermons and Holy Communion. Otherwise the booty would have been in danger.
The reformers, to be sure, assisted this as much as they could with their doctrine that the wrath of God was incurred by a country that still tolerated idolatry. But without the consideration of safeguarding the confiscated items their clamor would not have been heeded.
From the very beginning, in Germany there was danger and self-sacrifice only for those who adhered to the old church. Hutten’s “iacta est alea” [the die is cast] is ridiculous. It was different in France where the adherents of the new faith exposed themselves to mortal danger.